What do five high school classmates, retirees from the fields of education, business, and social work, do when they band together to help Israel, more than a half a century after they graduated from Yeshiva University High School. They form an organization called ACHI- American Communities Helping Israel, but more about that later!
More than 15 years ago, during the second Intifada, one of the YUHS graduates, Suzanne Muschel Weilgus of Rockland County realized that the Israeli merchants were in trouble. The shopkeepers on Ben Yehuda were losing business and many had to close their doors. Suzanne, together with a few friends decided to stage “Ben Yehuda Fairs” in the New York and New Jersey area, inviting Israeli merchants to come and sell their goods in the United States. The response from the vendors and committed shoppers, was overwhelming.
Fast forward to the present. The ACHI Team realized that it had to think once again about the merchants on Ben Yehuda in Jerusalem as well others all over Israel. These merchants have lost much of their business because of the coronavirus. There is no tourism in Israel and these merchants are suffering. Many have websites but business is not forthcoming.
With the help of a creative and enthusiastic technology consultant Stephen Plotsker, a 20+ year veteran of web and mobile application development, the ACHI Team has created a website -www.achi613.org. A major part of the website is the ACHI Market, an online market populated with vendors from all over Israel, who can sell and ship to the USA. Through an ongoing intensive digital and social media campaign, and employing its extensive network, the ACHI team directs the consumer to its website where vendors on the ACHI Market feature an array of products.
One major section of this online market is the Bernard Muschel z”l Ben Yehuda Fair, in memory of our founder Suzanne Weilgus’ father. The focus is on gift stores, which unfortunately have lost much of their business. In addition the ACHI Market features a category devoted to Buy Israeli — Deliver in Israel which will afford consumers both in the US and in Israel the ability to purchase Israeli goods from Israeli vendors and have the goods delivered to recipients in Israel.
But what has ACHI done in the past 15 years? After that positive and rewarding experience of the original Ben Yehuda Fairs, Suzanne said, “we cannot stop here”. She invited two YUHS friends and neighbors, Rochelle Zupnik and Gloria Gordon to join her in a fledgling grass roots organization which was named ACHI, American Communities Helping Israel. Together they scheduled appointments with Rabbis, Principals, and lay leaders with the goal of spreading the catchphrase of ACHI, “Think Israel – Buy Israeli.” They encouraged their receptive audiences to make the lateral change to buy products made in Israel. It was not limited only to food or consumables, but they planted the idea to buy Israeli when buying artwork , wedding and bar/bat mitzvah gifts, or for any occasion. The ACHI Team spoke at school assemblies and meetings at shuls, promoting this idea to both young and mature audiences.
A few years later, the ACHI Team grew with the addition of two more; Lynda Zentman and Tova Taragin, professionals who eagerly joined the ACHI Team. Together, the ACHI Team came up with the concept of the KLEE, any dish or vessel in a home that can be filled with Israeli products. They promoted KLEE Shabbat in hundreds of synagogues across the US. The Rabbis of these synagogues spoke about the importance of helping the Israeli economy by buying Israeli products and dedicating and filling a KLEE in every household. The synagogues started featuring Israeli products at Kiddush, and at Seuda Shlishit.
The ACHI Team scheduled parlor meetings where no funds were solicited, but whose sole purpose was to teach fellow Jews about the concept, Think Israel – Buy Israeli. These meetings were held in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Florida, and other locales in the USA.
So now you know about ACHI and its mission. The current updated ACHI website which introduces the ACHI Market still contains a wide array of resource material for educators teaching Ahavat Eretz Yisrael in the classroom. There is a section devoted to the KLEE. In it are instructions how to make your own KLEE, videos describing KLEE crafting and contests for children featuring the KLEEs they make. It even features a KLEE crafting kit for sale. There is also a section of videos demonstrating cooking using many Israeli products.
Please join ACHI at www.achi613.org to spread the idea of Think Israel-Buy Israeli.
If you are an Israeli vendor and would like to join our ACHI Market/Ben Yehuda Fair go to our website and register for our website. For more information contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.